Feb 172014
 

The_cover_for_Heroes_of_the_Storm_-_Sword_of_the_Great_KingBy Paco Garcia Jaen

Heroes of the Storm came to my attention at Spiel in 2013 when I visited the stand of Mindwarrior Games. Their passion and enthusiasm for their games really caught my eye and seeing they carry both board and role playing games was an added bonus.

They were kind enough to provide a review copy of the game and, at last, I’ve managed to get to it and read it.

When I interviewed the designer, Mike Pohjola, at the same convention, he told me it was a game specially designed for younger and inexperienced players. Another box ticked for me. I think there aren’t enough games for new players and even less for young ones, so I was immediately keen on it.

So how does it fare?

The game comes in a gorgeous box. The cover artwork is exciting, portraying a warrior facing an overwhelming and threatening monster. It certainly screams ADVENTURE at you and, although the box feels a bit light, it’s also big enough to keep all your gaming accessories. The cardboard is not massively thick, though, so treating it with a bit of care wouldn’t go amiss.

Production wise, though, things do take a bit of a downturn from here.

The box contains two booklets, a map, a pack of character sheets and a set of dice. The dice are pretty standard and cheap, which is what I’d expect from a beginner’s set. The map is rather nice, though. The double paged map pictures a nice portion of Nathar, the world where the action takes place.

The character sheets, ten of them, are OK, but nothing amazing. The graphic design is simple and it doesn’t have any thematic  decorations or anything. However it has a very interesting thing. The game uses two ways to measure damage, hit points and balance points. The sides of the sheets feature a scale with the hit and balance points so a paper clip can be attached to each side and help track the points won and lost.

Then there are two full-colour books, one for the players and another for the game master. Surprisingly, and disappointingly, they are just staple bound. At 60 pages per book, they deserve perfect binding at least. The covers are made of the same material as the rest of the pages, so there’s no protection at all.

The artwork is gorgeous. The illustrations are truly lovely and the paintings are excellent. A very good amount of them too!

However the layout is absolutely terrible. A single column layout that hasn’t really been looked after. At all. I hate to say it, but it’s one of the most uninspiring layouts I’ve ever seen in an RPG. To put it bluntly, it looks like they used Word to layout the books. And the editing has also been overlooked. Quite a few spelling and typographical mistakes are scattered throughout the books.

The game mechanics are fairly simple; it’s just a d20 based system, very simplified to make it easy to grasp and, credit to the designer, it gets explained step by step not just by rules, but with examples that become increasingly more complex. This has been done quite carefully and I reckon pretty much any child over 8 would be able to get how this game works.

Character creation is a simple enough affair and it’s described in great detail and one step at a time so it can be taken as a group activity too. Although not a 10 minute job, it’s something that can easily be accomplished in just an hour or slightly over, so younger players won’t get bored with the process.

There are seven character classes: Knight, Wizard, Ranger, Swineherd, Stahlo (orcish looking creatures), Whiskerling (think a bipedal fox) and Arni (a deva sort of humanoid). The fact that it doesn’t have Elves, Dwarves and other, more traditional, fantasy races is kind of great. As much as I have nothing against traditional fantasy, I like that the author has gone a step further to give something different and original.

The books come with everything you need and the only thing that’s lacking a bit is the amount of spells. 12 grade one and 11 grade two spells is all they provide. They are all useful, though, so levelling up can turn character into powerful spell-casters.

The world is generic but well built. An evil emperor, Zangavius, has taken over the land and a crew of evil knights is oppressing the citizens. There’s a group of rebels, the Greenhoods, who hide in Smokywood. Needless to say, ideally the players will join the rebels, since the whole thing has been organised to be run that way.

The Game Master’s Guide gives some advice on running the games, creating atmosphere, dealing with the unexpected and general gaming guidelines. All very welcome and generic information that won’t be of any use to experienced gamers, but well thought out for new players. Enough details to give a good idea, but not so much that becomes overwhelming.

Then there’s an adventure that runs in 6 chapters. Although they’ve been designed to last one session each chapter, they can easily be longer as the adventure progresses. Although there’s nothing overtly original about the adventure, the design is very good. Each chapter introduces the players to new elements of the game, including more complex manoeuvres, increasingly difficult encounters, how to create your own monsters and how to use locations.

The way it’s been divided between the two books, with the illustrations in the Player’s Guide and the adventure itself in the Game Master’s Guide. This could present a problem if the GM needs to see the illustrations and maps, but everything has been carefully thought out and referenced so it’s easy to find for both players and GM alike.

Conclusion

Although the game is well targeted and it has some terrific ideas, the production does get in the way of the whole experience, I am sorry to say.

The whole thing is in desperate need of an art director. The artwork is lovely, but that’s where it ends. The format is too big for children – the books are bigger than a standard A4 size – and the layout is very uninspiring. For a game that’s meant for the younger players, they aren’t that robust either, so I can see them getting torn.

The game itself is fine. Fine indeed, I’d say. It’s easy to get to grips with. The division between the Player and the Game Master’s Guide is well thought out, the classes are very nice and with plenty of opportunity to expand… everything is there!

I don’t know what the prize of this game is, but anything around £20 (around $30) would be a good investment if you have younger kids who are into fantasy.

Mixed feelings for a mixed game torn between good game design and mediocre production values.

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Oct 052013
 

thats_a_goblinBy Endzeitgeist

This supplement/module for the OSR-ruleset of old-school gaming is 21 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 18 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

On the crunchy side, we kick this pdf off with a d24-list of random goblin traits – and damn are they fun: Stinking belches, muscled goblins, blood-draining goblins, eyes that stick out like those of a chameleon – you name it and get some truly weird mutations with neat rules-representations. Advice is also given on adding the CL of some of the modifications. From Sewer Creepers to Leaf Lurkers, we also get 3 different types of goblins and 6 tactics can be assigned to goblins to net them bonuses when trying to kill animals of putting things to the torch.

Beyond these, we get 3 new weapons – from child catchers to a thurible filled with noxious fluids, we get a neat little arsenal. There is also a d16-table of goblin traits to make them not your average humanoids, but rather dwellers of the realms of fey – with druidic powers, dimension doors, fey dances and water-breathing goblins, size-changing and other options.

After all these options, we get a total of 6 statblocks of goblins – from a burn squad to obese drinkers and goblins with magical prowess.

The second half of her product is the Tributary of Terror, a mini-adventure for levels 2 to 4. Hence, the following part will contain SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

All right, still here? The (mapped) village of Reyr’s Well is fully detailed in a concise, gazetteer-like write-u that even provides us with a menu for the tavern -a nice level of detail supplemented further by local rumours. And of course, the village has troubles – a fey greentooth goblin has infiltrated the well and needs to be taken out. Straight-forward nice little sidetrek – but also one that ultimately is utterly and completely generic apart from its adversary: The sidetrek here feels a bit forced – as if a gazetteer wasn’t enough. There is no reason why the foe should be a goblin and honestly, more options for the green menaces or a more expanded sandboxy base with some hooks would have been more prudent.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf also comes with ok hand-drawn artworks – nothing special, but ok at this price-point.

Spes Magna Games’ mastermind Mark L. Chance has created a nice toolkit to get goblins some additional oomph that is not only relevant for S&W-DMs, but which should also be rather interesting for DMs of other rulesets – the ideas are suffused with a subtle humour that manages to evoke danger as well as keeping the goofy component associated with the little menaces.

And as much as I love the level of detail, the goofy abilities – the sidetrek in here is simply LAME with a capital “l” – it’s the equivalent of Lassie barking that Timmy fell down the well when the town’s set-up hints that so much more would have been possible. This is what drags the offering down from straight 5 stars to my final verdict – 4 stars and a recommendation to check it out for friends of goblins.

Endzeitgeist out.

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May 132013
 

crows-rest-island[1]By Megan Robertson

Good introduction to Adventureaweek’s own campaign setting, or just a good adventure for 1st level characters.

Publisher’s blurb: “Shrouded in whispered rumors, Crow’s Rest Island has been avoided as long as any can remember. Nothing but death, and the memories of those long gone, greet any who take to land upon the isle’s shores. It is to this island that the PCs will find themselves driven as a storm threatens to drive their ship below the waves. Awaiting the PCs are far more than ghost stories upon this island, for there lives a very real threat, hiding here among the legends that keep sailors at bay.

“A classic ghost story that casts the PCs not as adversaries to the specters, but rather as their benefactors, Crow’ Rest Island challenges the PCs with a tribe of foul kobolds, a haunted village, and the forgotten servant of a long departed ice devil. An excellent introduction to the Adventureaweek.com campaign setting, this adventure gives the PCs their first glimpse into Vikmordere culture. A0 may also be easily ported to any setting containing a northern wilderness near a large body of water.”

Megan’s Review

Designed as an introduction to the whole Adventureaweek campaign world, the putative setting of all their adventures (although most can be readily translocated into a suitable part of the campaign world of your choice) this short adventure is also intended to serve as a lead-in to A1:Crypt of the Sun Lord, if you’re intending to use that.

The basic concept is simple, and yet an elegant way to get around the constant problem of your character knowing the world he lives in far better than you, his player, does by saying that the characters come from a nearby kingdom which is actively encouraging adventurers to move to an outlying fishing village called Rybalka. It’s a wild and dangerous place, so much so that ordinary citizens are reluctant to move there even if offered payment. Clearly some braver souls, some adventurers, are needed!

The way to get there goes across the massive ice-cold Serpent Lake, pretty much an inland sea, and passes a ill-omened island, Crow’s Rest Island. Sailors are full of tales about people who have been shipwrecked there, tales of horror and haunting far worse than merely being shipwrecked and having to survive.

There’s a comprehensive backstory to inform you about what’s really going on, and then we get into the adventure proper which starts with the characters aboard ship… and there’s a storm blowing up! The ship is swiftly covered in snow to the extent that the captain decides that it is less risky to stop at Crow’s Rest Island than it is to continue the voyage. And so it begins…

Although quite simple, the adventure is atmospheric and there’s plenty of material to aid you in setting the scene, snow-covered and brooding with a mysterious crow that somehow only the party can see. Beautiful illustrations and lush maps provide visual cues to supplement the descriptions. There’s plenty to do, with negotiations with spirits as well as a couple of brawls… and the adventurers should emerge back on shore as the storm dies down and their ship is ready to resume its voyage. But, boy, they will have some tales to tell of their exploits!

If looking to start a campaign with a bang, this ought to fit the bill, excitement a-plenty yet all perfectly do-able by first level characters.

Book Details:
Authors: Joshua Gullion, Stephen Yeardley, Will Myers, Nathan Land, and Jonathan G. Nelson
Publishers’ Reference: A0
ISBN: n/a
PDF, 23 pages
Date: November 2012

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Dec 172012
 

a-childs-game[1]Introductory adventure, also legal for Dark Providence shared campaign play.

By Megan Robertson

Publisher’s blurb: “A child, blessed by the Almighty with visions to aid the fight against the foul Adversary, has been spiritually assaulted by vicious devils of all sorts. Taken to the famed Court of Whispers, birthplace of the accord, Witch Hunters from throughout Europe have attempted to aid her to no avail. The characters are compelled to follow her visions across the ocean to the New World. Can they triumph against the forces of the Adversary before the veil between worlds is torn asunder and devils walk the earth? This introductory adventure represents an ideal starting place for any Witch Hunter campaign.”

Megan’s Review

Designed as an introductory adventure to start both players and characters off playing Witch Hunter, the book begins with some sage advice on building groups of characters who will be able to work together credibly from the outset, as this is what you’ll need for a game such as this. There are also suggestions for how, once you have built a group of individual characters that can cooperate, you get them together as a party.

Next comes the adventure background and details of the main adversary that the characters will face. They are going to be thrown right into the world of Witch Hunter, dealing with an acolyte of one of the Twelve Penitents whose visions will start their mission off, visions that draw the characters from wherever they are to the Court of Whispers beneath Westminster Abbey in central London! An NPC to help get them there is included, as is a wealth of background detail about London in 1689. This covers all manner of topics giving a good feel for life and society, both covert and overt, as well as notable places and people.

We then move on to the adventure proper, with the characters visiting the Court of Whispers. There’s lots of detail that will enable you to set the scene, now or any other time your characters visit the Court. From then on in, events follow fast and furious all over London, culminating in discovering the need to journey to the New World.

Here again the scene is set vividly, highlighting the sheer difficulty of establishing a foothold in unknown, unexplored country and the many superstitions held by those attempting to do so. Throughout, there is information to gather and people to interact with, as well as supernatural dangers (and mere mortals) to combat. Whilst there is a lot to get through, it’s tightly linked and flows well. By the time the adventure is done, the characters will have a good knowledge of several notable locations and some of the more important – at least as far as witch-hunting is concerned – people to be found there… and should have defeated (at least for now) a major threat.

Overall, it is an exciting and informative adventure, tightly scripted and indeed providing a good introduction to this game and setting. There are a few typos but little to complain in what is a clear presentation of a great deal of information. You’ll need to read it all through several times to have it at your fingertips when it is time to play… but if the players are not begging for more, well, this isn’t the game for them! An excellent campaign starter, never mind introductory adventure. Happy witch-hunting!

Book Details:
Author: Rucht Lilavivat
Publishers’ Reference: PCI2403
ISBN: 978-1-931374-38-5
Paperback, 64 pages
Date: September 2008

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Nov 232012
 

106944[1]By Thilo Graf

This module for BASIC-PFRPG is 26 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page information on pawns, 1 page advertisement and 1 page SRD, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

The first in AdventureaWeek.com‘s BASIC-line of adventures is intended for players of the BASIC-version of PFRPG and new players and comes with a surprising array of bonus materials: From the obligatory Herolab-files to a high-res .png of pawns of the player-pregens in full colour, high-res jpegs of all player characters, .png-tokens of the PC-faces and high-res jpegs of the monsters contained in this module to finally a player-friendly .png-map of the dungeon, the amount of supplementary help to run this via a VTT is commendable – two thumbs up.

Now this being an adventure-review, the following will contain SPOILERS. Potential players will want to jump to the Conclusion.

All right, still here? Set in the Exallizar Preparatory Academy, this module is geared towards a younger audience: Essentially, the basic premise is slightly reminiscent of a Harry Potter-style set up: The PCs are exemplar young adults, sent by their adventuring parents to become adventurers themselves, champions of the downtrodden and well-equipped versus the monstrous dangers that send regular commoners fleeing for their lives. Much like novels for young adults, this adventure can e considered a coming of age test of the capabilities they’ve acquired during their studies so far. When the legendary headmaster assigns the PCs to each other, they also get objectives that should drive home the necessity for the group to act as a unit and aid each other – each class-type gets a type of bonus-objective and then, the players are off for the proving ground of the deadly gauntlet.

Now many products geared towards a younger audience often presume children to be stupid – not so this module. In fact, the players have to act in concert, as evidenced by the very first encounter, a couple of goblins, though that’s not teh first creature: In a sarcophagus that can be opened with two pearls, there’s a troll with 6 HP – deadly if not put down fast and equipped with the power to rip a PC asunder. There also is the obligatory introduction-adventure ogre (2d6+9 damage, again, hopefully the players act smart!), two easy riddles to avoid combat with elementals and then there is a clever puzzle included in the deal – nice! While the players can always return and get healed and can retry as often as they like, their final grade will depend on their special instructions and whether they find the true and secret treasure room (which is thankfully omitted from the player-map). Thus, the adventure hopefully concludes with the PCs being top of their class!

The pdf also comes with 4 pregens, all set to go.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to AaW’s two-column standard with a parchment-style background and the read-aloud-text looks like it’s printed on a scroll, while the gems, puzzles etc. come in their own colored boxes, which get neat lines at the top and bottom – personally, I prefer this box-layout to the one featured in other AaW-publications to date. The artwork in full colour are nice and of consistently a higher quality than the cover. The cartography is neat, as I’ve come to expect of AaW. The pdf also comes with a printer-friendly, background-less version.

Now, I don’t like the idea of an adventurer-school. In fact, I hate it. I hate Harry Potter and anything only slightly reminiscent of it with a fiery passion. Adventurer-schools make no sense in the context of any world I’d create. I really, really, really HATE the premise. Children don’t necessarily want to play young adults in similar circumstances – they want to play the badass hero. Thankfully, this module avoids the child-hero trap and has the characters be developed enough. That out of the way, I have to acknowledge that this module is well-crafted. The puzzles and riddles are nice, there is a neat selection of traps, combat and brains required to succeed and while in no way easy, this module should not prove to be an overwhelming challenge to PCs – if you do run this for children, and I did, make sure they understand the cooperative aspect of the game, that they can return to get healed and that their character may die nevertheless. If you do that, get ready to be surprised – the group of an 11-year old girl (fighter), a 10-year-old boy (cleric) , a 8-year old boy (rogue) and a 10-year-old girl (wizard) passed this module in my run without losing one of their number, retrying etc. and scored the bonus objective as well. Children are often smarter than we give them credit for – I actually expected one or more of them to die or throw a fit after being dropped by a foe, but no. They had an enjoyable time and the module worked fine. Much like 0one’s basic paths, this module is challenging, but doable. In the end, I consider this a well-made module, especially for a younger audience and thus will rate this a full 5 stars. If you’re older/looking for an adventure for more mature players, detract a star – this is still a good module, but loses some of its appeal.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Aug 212012
 

64476[1]By Thilo Graf

This adventure from Rite Publishing is 46 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving a total of 42 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

This is my second review of one of Rite’s excellent Arcana Evolved adventures, which I’ll also review with specific consideration for the PFRPG-audience. Thus, this review contains SPOILERS. Potential players might wish to jump to the conclusion, while idea-starved GMs are very heartily encouraged to keep reading!

All right, still here? Good! Claiming their deed for Plungedeep Manor after the first module, the PCs return to town after experiencing a staggering array of choices and omens in part I. Even if you want to play this module as stand-alone, you’ll be provided quite a bunch of different adventure hooks – 10 to be precise and all of them go beyond the standard.

Following the theme of dreams, the golden jackal returns in a dream and points the PCs towards a murder most foul – by being pounced and dream-dying – it is this attack that delivers the first clues to solving the complex mystery underlining the plot of this module. The Catchpole of the village of Far-Rough, Gavel Taverson, a Totem-Warrior (could easily be substituted for an animal-focused ranger/druid, btw.!), is investigating two recent murders and is fearing that a rune-marked sacred grave talon called Solange might be responsible, which is doubly problematic since that happens to be Gavel’s totem. Worse yet, Gavel might actually be the first suspect as a totem warrior – shapechanging, sickles – has he gone off the deep end? Things get worse, when the PCs find the remains of visiting nobles and tracks of a grynloc-child. Breandra Neverhold, the ostrich-riding faen-woman (fey-like creatures) and daughter of the first murder-victim should be among the PC’s first addresses. For a GMs convenience in running the murder mystery, each of the Npcs has extensive information on them, concisely presented, summing up what would make them suspicious, which clues to the puzzle at hand they can deliver etc. – means, motive, opportunity, all bases covered. Lord Golhia and the other Npcs don’t make things easy for snooping PCs, as many secret allegiances want to be kept silent by their respective owners. Fret not, though: If the PCs get stumped a dreamhunter named “Rosie” will help them track the killer and the lead points toward the eerie floating forest where, on a vast tree fallen between waterfalls, they will have to negotiate with a deadly balde-troll and his giant hornet-riding goblin henchmen Once the PCs have crossed this bridge, they may encounter the caves of the greenbound Qwayneel, where they can extract a dread parasite from an animal and encounter e.g. the potentially lethal bone vipers.

The true conundrum is laid bare, though: Faced with overwhelming proof, Gavel is on the way to end his career as a totem warrior – while the greenbound wants the PCs to refrain from attacking Solange and instead hear the intelligent, rune-marked animal out. It turns out that the deaths of the nobles can indeed be attributed to the sacred beast, but the death of e.g. the children are not Solange’s doing – these can be attributed to another Deinonychus, one infused with the power of 3 dread runes – depending on the job the PCs have done while investigating the crimes, they make actually take the work off this beats, witness the fall of a totem warrior and death of a sacred runemarked creature or something completely different – they have the option to kill or not to kill: Every creature in the module.

The pdf closes with appendices detailing the Deinonychus Totem Warrior, 2 new feats, 1 new spell, 2 new templates and 10 magic items, all with extensive Akashic lore-sight information.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful, full-colour 2-column standard with brilliant full-colour artworks and awesome maps by Jonathan Roberts. The pdf comes fully bookmarked.

“To kill or not to kill” has not been nominated for an Ennie for nothing: This module is a joy to behold with an interesting murder mystery that is easy to run, challenging, does not succumb to overtly generalizing b/w-dichotomies and feels logical. Better yet, the respective characters ooze iconicity, the emphasis on choice between life and death, violent and non-violent solutions and the smart usage of dreams as hints make this module an absolute delight to read, while sacrificing none of its predecessor’s awesome, dream-like quality to its usability. Indeed, I maintain that with a minimum of work, just about any DM can convert this module to PFRPG and enjoy one of the best murder mysteries out there. Even if you don’t want to check out the “Rituals of Choice”, even if you play PFRPG and not Arcana Evolved, this module still will be a blast to read and run – try as I might, even if you take the time it takes to do a conversion into account, this pdf remains a superior example of adventure-craft and writing and even for PFRPG-DMs, this should be considered a straight 5 star-recommendation, + seal of approval. If you haven’t already, go check it out – this is one of the modules that will be considered a “hidden gem” in the years to come.

Endzeitgeist out.

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